Good morning, everyone! It’s time for us to play a game. A game of Choose Your Own Adventure!
Let’s say you are a journalist. No, really! You are getting your work published, and getting paychecks for it, and everything. It’s very exciting for you. You wear a little porkpie hat, with a card that reads “PRESS” in it, and you talk really fast and say “chief” a lot, and you are always wondering how that whiz kid Peter Parker manages to get all the cool shots of Spiderman. Normal journalist stuff, in other words! Very usual. But today, Journalist, you have a problem. You are writing a long piece on “privacy,” and people’s private sexual lives, and for some reason you have included accounts of politicians sexually harassing women, and also one of the year’s biggest sexual assault cases, in your list of “sexual things covered by press recently.” Indeed, all of the politicians and public figures whose privacy you are concerned with are male. Which is not really a huge thing in and of itself, except: You also included sexual assault on your list of things that were sexual.
I don’t know what happened, Journalist! Maybe you were drunk again! Maybe your porkpie hat was too tight! Maybe you were worried that everyone would notice that, when you take your glasses off, you look exactly like Superman; it’s a common problem! But anyway, now you have to write a segue from your poorly framed argument into your main point. And for some reason, the best you can come up with is the following sentence: “Arguably the worst groping of the year was committed not by any boorish pol but by the umpteen commentators grasping for reasons these incidents should be covered.” Yikes! DO YOU:
- Shake your head, erase that thing because it is terrible, and try again? Turn to page 15.
- Cry bitter tears of failure because this is the best you can do, plead with the editor for an extension on your deadline, and somehow turn out a less terrible sentence at 4 a.m. which is not hard because, let’s be honest, anything is better than that sentence? Turn to page 29.
- Turn in the piece as-is, probably with an e-mail that reads, “DEAR EDITOR, Please pay me for all of the sentences, because they are all great sentences constituting a flawless argument, but especially pay me for the sentence in graf 3 where I say that covering sexual assault is actually a worse form of sexual assault than sexual assault is, because that is like the best one?” Turn to page OH MY GOD HOW IS THIS REALLY HAPPENING DAVID GREENBERG, because it did.
Yeah. And from there it’s all blippity-bloo we live in an age of no privacy, blippity-bleepity-bloo we used to not cover politicians’ private infidelities, bloop blorp what is the role and ethical responsibility of the journalist in covering these things blippity. I feel bad for not engaging with the argument more! But then: My eyes were dazzled by that terrible, terrible sentence!
And, you know, it seems like a whole lot of writing devoted to a fairly simple question. Because, to be entirely honest, I do not care what politicians and public figures are doing with their consensual sex lives. Even if it’s not stuff that I do, even if it’s not stuff that I agree with; I just don’t care. I do sort of care when elected officials are potentially committing crimes, however? And I appreciate it when the press reports to me on these things?
But, you know. I am not David Greenberg. Who, his Atlantic bio tells me, is “an associate professor of history and of journalism and media studies at Rutgers University.” Oh, man! Lots of credentials, for David Greenberg. Me, I am no fancy professor. I am simply… an artist.
Indeed, I am a playwright! And it has been too long since I last exposed the reading public to one of my many and excellent plays! “People who write brief, didactic plays on WordPress are the unacknowledged legislators of the world,” is what some dude (he’s dead, don’t ask him about it) would say, in this situation. And so, I am going to share with you now a little something I have written, which answers all of David Greenberg’s questions on the subject, and also settles the issue of what people should cover and why, forever. I present to you:
IDEAL JOURNALISTIC ETHICS IN THE AGE OF NO PRIVACY
A Play, By Sady Doyle, Of the Sort That Could Be Performed Somewhere
REPORTER: Hey, chief! Hot story! A person in a position of power has been revealed to have foibles, and to conduct his relationships in a less-than-totally-admirable sort of way!
EDITOR: Why are you telling me this? That is boring, and not newsworthy. Plus, we all make mistakes. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to BCC every single person I’ve ever slept with on this text message, which reads “hey what r u up to? just… thinkin about u.” I am hoping that one of these women has found forgiveness in her heart for the many times I cheated on her previously, that another recipient will believe I have developed slightly more skill with and interest in the human clitoris since last we sexed, and that a third woman has sort of forgotten that I owe her money. Like, seriously. A lot of money. Then again, these are just three people out of a wide pool of candidates! I am confident I will find prompt sexing from at least one source of inquiry!
REPORTER: Geez, chief. It seems to me like your wife…
EDITOR: My wife is the second candidate for sexing I have mentioned! Seriously, I have no idea where her clitoris is. It’s sad. Anyway, kill the story! Many human beings have flaws in the sack and/or in relationships. We must only cast judgment where we ourselves would feel comfortable being judged.
REPORTER: Will do. You make a lot of excellent points. I apologize for my previous interest in the sexing lives of public figures; surely, the reading public would be better served were I to report on some actual news. But sir, your wife’s clitoris is not that hard to find. Having banged her many times myself, I quite enjoy her vocal and constructive feedback. Coincidentally, I’m a woman.
EDITOR: Gasp! Could this mark a turning point in all our relationships????
REPORTER: Gosh, chief, I’m glad that we managed to resolve our tangled and interconnected web of sexual relationships in a way that was both pleasing and empowering, and also miraculously in line with the moral and political desires of our audience.
EDITOR: I thought it could not be done! Now that our own sexual lives are both pleasurable and morally beyond reproach, have you any news for me today, my reporter friend?
REPORTER: I sure do! A man in a position of power has been accused of a crime! Of a sexual nature!
EDITOR: Gasp! A crime! This is surely newsworthy! We both understand, of course, that sexual assault is a relevant topic for the press to cover because it is criminal behavior, and not because it relates to sex. Indeed, sexual assault is largely a crime of power!
REPORTER: No need to explain, chief; I, too, understand the basics of sexual assault, and understand why this accusation is both relevant and newsworthy! Now, to do some highly responsible reporting on the subject.
EDITOR: Your statements have assured me that you will produce very honorable, ethical, and necessary coverage of this event. This is why I pay you to report things! By god, I think this could be the best story Cat Fancy has ever done.
There! I settled it! Please, please: Hold your wild applause. Also your tears; I know, my way with words can be very moving. What is important to this conversation is how my play resolved all the issues of privacy attendant upon this important and professorial piece in The Atlantic. Because it was pretty simple! So simple that for once — for once — I didn’t need to take 4,000 words.